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Germany’s large and beautiful south-eastern state of Bavaria is an established destination for Martin Randall Travel, with a number of tours over the years dedicated to a variety of themes. This tour has a different focus, that of the legendary ‘Swan King’ Ludwig II and the House of Wittelsbach from which he hailed, and his extraordinary architectural and cultural legacy.
Architecturally and artistically, the tour encompasses outstanding examples of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classical and Romantic styles as well as Ludwig’s fairytale follies. Historically it examines the eccentric world of one of Europe’s most controversial monarchs and in the story of what, until German unification, counted as one of the continent’s most important little states.
For music there is a production in Munich’s State Opera House of Wagner’s epoch-making Tristan and Isolde, the first performance of which in 1865 was lavishly supported by Ludwig II. The composer was the king’s most treasured and revered companion. Indeed, his extravagant patronage of Wagner, whose every luxurious demand was met, and his mania for building new palaces, very nearly bankrupted the Bavarian state.
It is true that Ludwig II’s predilection for aesthetic absorption over political and legal leadership gained him fierce opposition and criticism, but this handsome young king and his elaborate castles are responsible for a considerable proportion of Bavaria’s appeal today. Ironically, the dream world into which the sovereign retreated in order to escape the responsibilities of state now benefits Ludwig’s former kingdom in a way it never did when he inhabited it.
Was he, to quote one of his more defamatory monikers, insane? Or simply weak, of solitary disposition, and therefore tragically unsuited to the role imposed upon him at a time of Bavaria’s considerable political fragility and conflict with Prussia, Austria and France? Once deposed in 1886, was the cause of his untimely death suicide, did it take place at the hand of murderous detractors, or was it mere accident? Was he an impotent and irresponsible sybarite or a luminous benefactor of the arts?